Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Loeb and Joseph Speak at the Community Forum on Casinos in Springfield

Casino Proposals in Springfield, MA

                 Last night, two veteran coaches (now college students and leaders in the program), one of our graduate fellows who grew up in Springfield, and I attended the Community Forum for the two casinos (MGM and Penn National) who are attempting to build in Springfield, MA. Listening to the proposals was an informative experience, both of our veterans remarked how much they learned about the projects, what a nice job the companies had done preparing, and how exciting the prospects seemed for the city. I was struck by how few of the 300 audience members appeared under the age of 30. As a former resident and teacher in the city of Springfield, I was worried that the youth of the city had not come out to hear about such an important possibility and change. When it came time for community members to ask questions, I noticed that our two young men appeared to be among an incredibly small number of youth in line to ask these companies about their plans, their commitment to the city, and their ability to help Springfield. Yet, I could not have been more proud to see and hear Loeb and Joseph speak about our program and ask about the potential for these companies to support community building organizations like ours. 
 Loeb Rosario and Joseph Wray address the executives from MGM and Penn National 

          As you can see in the video, our young men were incredibly poised and well spoken, especially considering the large crowd, the people they were addressing (CEOs and COOs), and the fact that they were one of the first in line to ask a question. What struck me during and after this was that this event was not just important for our program, the possibility of connecting with these casinos, and our never ending quest for a beautiful facility in the north end; this was incredibly important for the two men who took a chance, had a great experience, and supported a program that meant so much to them. Afterwards, both Loeb and Joseph Wray were interview by NECN and Fox 6. A portion of that aired on both stations last night. Furthermore, the Young Professionals Society invited both young men to their next luncheon. In an email this morning, Loeb wrote, "I just really want to say thank you. Thank you for believing in me and trusting me throughout the past 6 years of my life. I know I could count on you all for anything." He continued on to say, "It seriously means a lot to me that you trust me talking about Project Coach to such important people." This solidified my belief that getting our name out, creating an opportunity to partner with these casinos, and promoting Project Coach, did not live up to the fabulous opportunity we had just given these young men. The chance to speak and be received as well as they were was undeniably powerful. 
MGM Gives Answer to Loeb and Joseph's Question

MGM Thanks Loeb and Joseph for Coming and Their Courage to Speak 

Penn National Echoes MGM's Support for Our Youth Leaders and the Program

       As all of the videos show, the two companies were both eager to discuss opportunities to partner with Project Coach and other organizations developing youth in Springfield. MGM's diversity leader commented how interested they were in organizations that have youth involved in mentoring and developing other youth. Loeb and Joseph were excited by the opportunity in their responses and will be visiting the offices of both companies this week. We are all excited and encouraged and would love to create a partnership with either organization. Stay tuned for more updates on this opportunity! 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Successful Family Night! 

           Last week, Project Coach held its first Open House Family Night for the first semester. Planned by our Purple Shirts, veteran coaches in local colleges who have leadership positions in the program, the first Family Night surpassed all expectations. Following our normal Wednesday programming (literacy, sports, and dinner for our participants), a crowd moved from the Gerena cafeteria to the gyms. So many families showed up, that the large hall leading to the gyms was packed with siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. Over 75 parents attended, with and overall attendance around 150 people. The gyms were full of activity including basketball games, volleyball with parents and kids, and PC youth coaches leading games from the week's practices. Walking around the gyms, PC staff were thrilled to see such a wonderful event with amazing attendance happening in the community. 


           During the activity, our Purple Shirts were getting parents to sign up for an adult North End Volleyball League they are starting. Over 40 parents signed up and received free PC Volleyball t-shirts. Parents also talked with their children's coaches and staff about how much the program means to them and their community. Many parents offered excellent suggestions on follow-up Family Nights and ideas for other ways we could connect to the North End. Meanwhile, the gyms were filled with sports, play, and laughter. Looking forward, our Purple Shirts are already planning a Project Coach Family Carnival Night with more fun games, stations, and other chances to enjoy active time with their children, PC coaches, and other members of the community. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NYC and College Trips by Red Shirt Joe

It was a real pleasure to spend the day on Thursday with Kayleigh (Director), Kelly (Sports Director), Jon, Efrain, Loeb, and Joe (Purple Shirts).  Generally spending eight hours with anyone during a day is something I try to avoid, especially in the confines of a fast-moving van.  In this case, I enjoyed the company immensely.  What made the day enjoyable was how comfortable everyone was with each other.  I think that getting away does that, which is why I think that trips will be a great tool going forward to get to know our home teams better.

We first made our way in to Manhattan.  We arrived a bit early, so we ate at one of my favorite pizza places.  Here is a picture of Kelly mashing food into his face and Kayleigh apparently carrying on a conversation with a pizza pie.

From there we headed to the BCNY building in lower Manhattan to meet with three representatives from the clubhouse.  I was impressed with the questions and answers that each of the Purple Shirts offered--they knew that this was a business trip first and foremost.  We then got stuck in some rush hour traffic, but the guys did get to meet some of the BCNY high school students from Queens who are using the Project Coach curriculum.  One goal for me is to get BCNY to come up to Springfield--I think it'd be great for the Blue Shirts to share their coaching experiences with other students in different locations.  From there, we headed north to lovely Bethlehem, CT where my dad had cooked up a great meal.  Jon Cotto can sure eat.  Then it was back to Springfield.

Sunday was equally enjoyable.  We met Liam at UMASS and he led a tour of his old stomping grounds.  We got some pizza delivered to the basketball courts near the dorms, which is where this happened:

Friday, November 2, 2012


Today, several Project Coach members spent a few hours working in Morgan Hall on their college applications and college essays.  The room bustled with activity.  Several Smith students volunteered their time to work with and advise the blue shirts as they began the college process.  Owen brainstormed ideas for his college essay.  Besides being a great coach, he also helped build a house with his class!  Loeb and Efrain started thinking about transferring to their target schools.  Lai'shaa worked on her essay, and she's only a sophomore!  Priscilla started her common application, and she's only a junior!  This kind of initiative is so impressive, and important to staying on top of a complicated process.  A big thanks to the Smith students--Anna, Perry, Glendean, Julia, Haley, Dena, and Carlie--for working with us today.  And now, a college-themed quote to send all of our readers on their way.  A prize for the first commenter to name the movie that this quote is from*:

"You know, a lot of people go to college for seven years."
"I know, they're called doctors."

*Prize is the satisfaction of being published on the Project Coach Blog.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Texas' motivational speech

Texas captivates his audience with a great message about working towards success!

          During our last Monday night coaching academy session, Texas (a graduate fellow or Red Shirt) delivered an amazing motivation speech about wanting success and how to work towards it. His speech told the story of a young man who wanted success very badly and sought the help of a famous guru. The guru agreed to help and told the young man to meet him at the beach at 4am the next day. The young man complied, showing up in a suit. The guru, instructed the young man to walk into the ocean until he was up to his neck in water. The guru held the young man's head under water and let him up just before he passed out. The young man, convinced the guru was crazy, was relieved to catch his breath. The guru told the young man that when he wanted success as badly as he had just wanted to breathe, then he will get it. Texas used this story to explain that wanting success is great, but without hard work, heart, utilizing your resources, and setting goals that success will remain elusive. 
          Texas shared that in order to work towards success, people must surround themselves with individuals who are already where they want to be. Many coaches nodded their heads and even said "yes!" out loud after this statement. Texas shared how many of us around the table have people who say they are there for us and supportive, but in reality are not. He pushed the coaches to find people who will help them towards success and spend time with those people. The room broke into smiles when he described inviting all of your friends over and then surprising them with a study party! 
         Towards the end of the speech, Texas moved towards a focus of Project Coach -- Goal Setting! He explained that goal setting needs to start with short term goals and "winning the day." Only by winning the day can you hope to win a month, a year, or a few years. Many coaches nodded in agreement as Texas spoke about setting small goals that lead you to success. After his speech, the whole group clapped vigorously. Then our teenage coaches split up into their home teams and discussed with their Red Shirt what resonated with them. They also worked to set new SMART goals and discuss possible obstacles. This was a very timely activity for our group since grades for the first quarter of high school close this week. Many of our coaches continued to reach out for more help academically during the week, and quite a few coaches asked for help in addition to the usual tutoring sessions. Clearly, Texas' message was well received by all! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

F Level MA Youth Soccer Training
October 21st, 2012

             On Sunday, red shirts, blue shirts, and purple shirts all came together for an excellent training on how to coach youth soccer. Starting at 9am, coaches and staff were engrossed in a review of the G level training, and on their way to starting the F level. The training was free of cost for all of us, thanks to our great partnership with MA Youth Soccer. After learning about the way to plan a successful practice, the big ideas of coaching children, and the variables we should remember when planning practices, the whole group went over to the beautiful Smith soccer fields to learn through playing. We started off with activities on dribbling, and a great 1 vs. 1 dribble tag game. Within minutes we were all taking off our jackets and sweating. Before long, we were working on coaching dribbling techniques, headers, and more exciting small sided games. When lunch finally arrived, the group was so hungry! 

          The most exciting part of the training were all of the things we took away to improve our coaching. Some that really stuck with many of us were the importance of demonstrating everything you want your players to do in slow motion, giving players as many touches on the ball as possible, and what ethics means and how ethics relates to coaching. We had a great dialogue about making hard (but correct) decisions as a coach, making sure all players have fun, and the importance of games. We also learned some great coaching points relating to tactics and coaching defense. By the end of the eight hours, everyone in the group was pretty worn out, but as Loeb Rosario said we all learned a lot! Thanks to our instructor, Evan Holmes, and MA Youth Soccer for this great opportunity! 

Sunday, October 21, 2012


            Dressed to the nines, 15 coaches and 6 adults stood outside Symphony Hall awaiting the start of an exciting night. In spite of the rain, the steps to the historic building were filled with people coming out to see a unique orchestra all the way from Puerto Rico. Thanks to our partnership with the New North Campus Coalition, Project Coach was able to invite all of our coaches and staff to attend this formal, and important, cultural event. Sharing an auditorium with incredibly talented musicians, multiple dignitaries (including the mayors of both Holyoke and Springfield), Project Coach enjoyed three hours of beautiful music. 
         During the performance, many of us exchanged whispers about how amazing the violinists were, how the vocalist gave us chills, and how inspiring it was to watch the orchestra play. During one song, Efrain (a veteran coach in our program), translated the beautifully sung Spanish lyrics to help some of us better appreciate the tragic love story being told. The peak of the performance, a rendition of the score from West Side Story, captured the history of clashing cultures and the hope of cultures coming together and living in harmony. Notably, the audience listening to this score was a magnificent mix of Springfield's many cultures, ages, and backgrounds. 
        After intermission, it was announced that tickets to this symphony guaranteed a free ticket to an upcoming classical orchestra visiting Springfield. The moment after it was announced, all of the teenage coaches looked down the line with excitement and commented that they couldn't wait to attend that one as well. As coach Efrain Lopez commented about the night, "It was like a breath of fresh air. I loved the combination of Hispanic culture and classical music." The experience certainly made an impact on all of the coaches, and PC is already scheduling the second orchestra outing. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

reflections on first day

Reflections on our first day from a returning grad student and a new grad student!

The Following is an email received from former Project Coach Grad Student Thomas Messinger after he came back to help with the first day of programming for the 2012-2013 school year.

It was great to see the kids again, and the program feels like it's going to be very strong this year again- i was especially impressed with how organized it felt. I just wanted to point out one little moment to you, that I shared during the debrief with the Gerena kids, but might be worth making a note of at a Monday session or something. I actually wish I had it on video. 

Charlie had been using the word "variation" very often while explaining the games to his group, which were third graders. Not surprisingly, they didn't know the word. He asked at the beginning "who knows what a variation is?" and no one answered. He explained that it was a change in the game, and then explained the change. He used the word "variation" every time he was, in fact, putting in a variation throughout the whole session. Whether intentional or not, it seemed like a point of emphasis for the day was to teach the third graders this relatively sophisticated word. We always talk about using language that is appropriate for the age group, and I got a feeling like this was going way over their heads the entire time, despite his repeated usage. During the debrief, he asked the question again "who can tell me what variation means?" and, as I had expected, not a single kid raised their hand. Sensing this, Charlie made a fantastic analogy to really bring it home for the kids. He followed up with this dialauge (not direct quotation, but paraphrasing): 

Charlie: "what happens in a video game when you beat a level?"
Kids: "You move on to the next level!" 
Charlie "Does the game stay the same or does it change?"
Kids: "It's different, it gets harder!"
Charlie: "That's a variation! When you do really well at a game, we have to change it so it stays fun"

And the kids really responded to it- they all got what a variation was. It was a phenomenal job by Charlie to recognize the analogy, and put it in at a great time. It really showed a lot of growth on his part as a coach. I don't know if many of the kids will retain that knowledge, but as two of them were walking out they were talking about a "variation" in their favorite video game and how the two levels were different. Pretty cool moment

Below, one of our new Red Shirts (Grad student Kelly Coder) also reflects on the first day of the 2012-13 season.

            This past Wednesday, September 19, the newly established Project Coach family was put to its first test of the year as our coaches began work with three local Springfield Elementary Schools. Following an extremely productive three day training camp the previous weekend; our group of blue shirts (high school students from the Springfield area), some new, some returning, applied their teaching and coaching skills to groups of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at Gerena, Lincoln and Brightwood Elementary Schools. Their work began in the classroom as assistance with homework and literacy lessons were lead with enthusiasm and attentiveness. Many of the local teachers expressed joy and excitement about what the Project Coach program provides. The feeling of excitement only increased as the coaches led their groups of elementary school kids to the soccer fields for team and skill building activities. Each and every leader, coach, and child was highly involved throughout the rest of the evening while our combination of soccer techniques, fun, laughter, and character building took place. I know I speak for every member of the PC team when I say it was truly a bright and successful first day of the 2012-2013 year! 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Art by Loeb Rosario with the Letter 

           Each year, as a part of an existing grant from the Global Sports Foundation, our teenage coaches create art that depicts drug-free sport, good sportsmanship, clean competition, and equal playing field. It is an excellent opportunity for our youth to reflect on the morals of sports and coaching, to see the positive ways dedication to sports and coaching influences their lives, and to share their experience with others through art. Often, our coaches work with Smith College Art students to improve their creative expression and truly capture their experiences in Project Coach. As one of the many partnerships and additional initiatives we run, this artistic expression gives our coaches another excellent outlet and mode through which they can reflect and emote. 

          This year we were pleased to hear that the art made by one of our long time coaches, Loeb Rosario, was chosen to represent Global Sports and Project Coach at the London Olympics and Paralympics. His art was "so impressive" that Global Sports made it a larger poster and displayed it at the University College London to be seen by current and former Olympians, members of the Olympic Committee, and the London community. This is an honor and excellent recognition for both Loeb and Project Coach. As Loeb prepares to start his freshmen year of college (he started with our program in 8th grade), this is a recognition he will surely cherish. 
          As we begin our season this year, and have our coaches creating more art, this will surely be a welcome motivator and reminder of the power of sports, coaching, and artistic expression to change the lives of youth, to teach values, and to help adolescents grow and develop. We are so pleased to continue the partnership with Global Sports, and to continue to work with coaches like Loeb who inspire all of us to find our passions, dream big, and work hard. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Kayleigh Colombero, Executive Director
Written by Cristina Masurat (2012-2013 Graduate Fellow) 

          Everyone at Project Coach is very excited to welcome Kayleigh Colombero as the new Executive Director at Project Coach. Kayleigh comes to PC with many years of valuable experience, a deep faith in the potential of Springfield's youth, and a strong dedication to the program's future. 

         Kayleigh started her career with PC when the program was just beginning to blossom. As an undergraduate student, she served as an academic adviser and mentor for the developing youth program from 2006 to 2008. The relationships she formed in these early years impacted her deeply as she pursued a career in teaching and formed her long-lasting commitment to urban education. She says that a big motivation for her during this time, and a source of continued inspiration, was her potential as a mentor to change an adolescent's self-perception after years of receiving negative feedback. Though she left Project Coach for several years to pursue different teaching and coaching positions, Kayleigh says that she "always loved the mission of the program, its capacity to change the lives of Springfield youth, and the opportunity to showcase how amazing teenagers in Springfield are." Kayleigh is also very excited to be returning to Smith College, her alma mater. She says that she highly values her time spent at Smith College, acknowledging that the institution helped her develop into "a young, educated female leader early on in life."

         After her time with PC and Smith, Kayleigh began teaching at a small public school in Hadley, MA. While she enjoyed her time in Hadley, she knew her calling was to work with urban youth. After two years in Hadley, she started teaching at Renaissance in Springfield, MA and was inspired by the "amazing assets [Springfield] has as a city that are waiting to be developed." Her love for urban adolescents was clearly on fire at Renaissance, where she started the school's first cheering team. By starting this team, Kayleigh greatly expanded the limited options for athletic involvement available to girls at her school. After only two years, Kayleigh led her team to become the Western Massachusetts champions and brought them to the State Championship in Lowell. Kayleigh's belief that sports have the incredible power to teach teens "motivation, discipline, communication, and the importance of working together" was stronger than ever. 

         Now that Kayleigh is back with Project Coach, she has jumped into her position with astounding eagerness. She has been closely following Andy Wood, the current director of the program, in order to gain as much knowledge and advice as she can. She is learning about the program's complex network of support at Smith and in Springfield, its current trajectory of growth and its day-to-day operations. She honors Andy's legacy and greatly admires his commitment to connecting deeply with teens in order to affect change in their lives as well as his great accomplishment of guiding PC as it expanded into three schools in Springfield. She commends his wonderful presence with teens and staff and the "great wealth of knowledge" about sports that he brings to his coaching and mentoring. While Kayleigh acknowledges that "Andy certainly has big shoes to fill both literally and metaphorically," she is ready to fill them in her own unique way. She is excited to strengthen the Project Coach curriculum, nurture the program's relationships with its partners and continue the program's healthy trajectory of growth. She also hopes to greatly increase the awareness about Project Coach at Smith College, in the Springfield community, and beyond. Kayleigh believes that "improving urban education is at the forefront of the post civil rights fight for equality in this country" and her resolve to further this cause is stronger than ever. 

      We are all so excited to welcome Kayleigh to the program and look forward to a great year in Springfield. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Reflection on NJ (Michael)

When I first found out that the red shirts were going to go to New Jersey to work with the Boys Club of New York  I was extremely excited. Firstly, the trip helped the redshirts form closer bonds and secondly, it was a great distraction from the growing responsibility in the classroom. I thought that it would be a piece of cake after having participated in the program Project Coach hosted at Dunbar Community Center in Springfield with the camp councilors of the YMCA. I felt that because I have experience in the inner city, both as a student and an educator, that I had an advantage with working with the students from New York. I was comfortable--- I  thought it would be refreshing to work with the caliber of students I would be working with throughout the school year. Needless to say, I was pretty confident that the experience would simple, enjoyable and educational. What I found was that the experience was everything but simple. It was enjoyable at times but frustrating at other times. I also found out that it was definitely educational.

What I learned is that teaching/coaching is never predictable. One set of experiences cannot determine the outcome of another set of experiences. I also learned not to overestimate my skill set as an instructor or educator. There is always room to grow. The trip in New Jersey forced me to think critically about the decisions I am making to move toward education and the decision to work with younger people. When we arrived in New Jersey we were giving our red shirts, and it hit me that it was finally official. I was a member of Project Coach and things were about to get real. The boys from the Boys Club came into the auditorium soon are we arrived and greeted each of us with handshakes and their names. I was impressed with their level of communication and orderliness. I sat down at a table with four young men and their camp counselor. I noticed right away that half of the young people at the table were either yawning or on their verge of placing their heads on the table. The other half were very talkative, but about things that had nothing to do with the Program or its objectives. They seemed to be more concerned with money, girls and making jokes about the clothes some of the other boys were wearing. Immediately I knew that I would have to do something to captivate the attention and respect of the young men. This would be my challenge from that Saturday until Monday.

The guys seemed like they were very intelligent; they simply just did not want to be present at the training. They felt as if they already knew much of what we were discussing and I was disappointed to see that they were not enthusiastic about the material. I kept asking myself what I could do to change the demeanor of the kids. I tried to get them standing and acting out a few of the skits that were in one activity, but I soon realized that they did not feel comfortable acing "silly" or "uncool" in front of their friends. I tried to demonstrate that it was okay to be silly, but they still had a hard time grasping the concept. When we worked in the larger groups I was able to interact with some of the other students who seemed to have a better time at the training, and I understood that the challenge was not a global issue-- it was one that I had been dealt and needed to overcome.

By the end of Saturday it was clear that 3 of the 4 young men in my group did not want to be there. I had to come to grips with this conclusion and try to make the best of the situation. I found out that all of the guys in my group were good athletes, so when it was time to demonstrate coaching on the court, they showed off their ability. I complimented them on their skills, and tried to get them to invoke more of a coach's attitude. In some instances, I was successful. There was a time when Justin (who seemed to be the ring leader) actually took the initiative to lead the group through a coaching exercise. It was surprising and rewarding to see him step up to the plate. Once I was able to get Marquis to realize that it was okay to be silly, he began to demonstrate some coaching ability as well. Unfortunately, only one of the four were able to return on Monday. Marquis was the last one standing. When the younger kids arrived he realized the importance of paying attention during the training. He relied on me for much of the day, but then I informed him that he would have to do it alone the following day. He stepped up to the plate and learned how to coach.

I know that overall, the experience taught me not to make assumptions. I learned not to allow a few difficult students to ruin it for the rest of the group. I learned that educating is sometimes an extremely frustrating process, but the results can be phenomenal.

A Red Shirt's Reflection on NJ (Emily)

Going to New Jersey, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was not nervous, but I also didn’t feel prepared; I had no idea what I was in for! I remember standing in the auditorium greeting all of the boys as they walked in and chose their tables, and then being told to just sit at a table...those were the boys I would work with. My table had only four boys at it: two pairs of friends and they kept themselves that way the whole weekend. Two of the boys were very easy-going and engaged. They seemed to want to be there, and watching them coach it was clear they weren’t the best, but they put in the effort to improve daily.
Not all of the boys in NJ were that easy though, but this showed me even more why exactly I want to be involved in a program like Project Coach. Those two boys who did well coaching were fantastic, but they weren’t the challenge. They needed guidance and lessons, but they didn’t need motivation to be there. Another boy who sat at my table did, and he really reminded me why I want to be here. On the first day I asked the boys to tell me a little bit about themselves; this boy, Joe, told me that coaches and teachers have called him a natural leader in the past. He could have fooled me. His actions in the morning session did not reflect that whatsoever. When we played ice breakers he would stand or sit to the side without participating, when we watched film he would doodle, when he contributed answers (which was great) he would mumble and stare at the table (which is not great coaching practice).
But for some reason I really wanted to see this kid succeed. I made an effort to talk to him whenever we were walking from court to court; I wanted to figure out if there was any reason at all that he wanted to be there, or, if not, why not. He opened up to me, telling me about difficulties in his life right now, and I responded by showing him a lot of positive reinforcement. Whenever he would lead a good lesson I’d make sure to tell him that he did well, and if he seemed disengaged I’d let him know I believed in him and wanted him to do well. He responded to all of this especially well when he was not around his other friend, but getting the both of them engaged was something I never succeeded in doing.
At the end of the weekend there were discussions over the overall lack of enthusiasm of this group as a whole. Some boys were not invited to come back the next day to coach the kids. Joe was on the fence, but I advocated for him because I believed there was something in him that could lead to a really good coach. Much to my disappointment, he did not come on Monday (Was there something more I could have done??). My other two coaches, with whom I spent the day helping, rose to the occasion. They enthusiastically lead the games with clear direction, getting all the kids involved. The afternoon proved to be extraordinarily challenging; it was very hot out and the little kids just wanted to swim. My two coaches faltered and defaulted to assisting me in coaching the group, but remained as enthusiastic as ever. We debriefed in depth after the afternoon soccer session, talking about strategies to keep the kids involved, ways to avoid conflicts that arise from not enough balls being on the field etc, and while they seemed blown away by the intensity of actually being in charge of a group of young kids, they also were very eager for any hint or help I could offer.
Joe came on Tuesday and I’m told he did well, but he did not return the rest of the week. This upsets me, but does not leave me defeated. I feel like the weekend was a huge eye-opener but in the best way possible. I feel as though I learned way more from the high school boys than they learned from me, but I hope what I did manage to teach them helped! And as tough as the weekend was -- motivating kids that didn’t want to be there, pulling teeth to get responses to discussions -- getting to know those high school boys was the best part of the weekend, which reaffirms my belief that Project Coach this upcoming year is exactly what I want to be doing with my life.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

PC at 2nd Annual Springfield Unites event in Forest Park!

This past Spring, Karen Pohlman, Project Coach’s Health and Community Liaison, introduced us to the Springfield Mayor’s Violence Prevention Taskforce.  The Taskforce is a collection of like-minded organizations that serve the Greater Springfield region and over the past few months, Project Coach has met a host of new organizations and public figures thanks to the group’s far reach. Each of the organizations associated with the Taskforce will - over this year and beyond - commit to implementing youth development curriculum in keeping with the Character RISE project. Character RISE emphasizes the importance of working alongside Springfield youth to develop critical life-skills such as effective communication, conflict resolution, and self-determination; all attributes essential to the core of Project Coach.

Last night, the group hosted its second annual “Springfield Unites Picnic” at Forest Park.  A Project Coach contingent made the trip down with our picnic gear in tow.  It was a great night all around, highlighted by great snacks, better chat with local figures and organizations, and some of the finest Zumba you will ever see. (I’m not kidding... check out that video below!)

Project Coach is excited to continue to work with the local organizations of the Springfield community and even more excited at taking our second crack at Zumba at next year’s “Springfield Unites Picnic”.

Thanks to Gianna Allentuck and everyone on the Taskforce that made last night’s event a success!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Redshirt Recap: Our latest cohort of Fellows reflect on their initial experiences

The following accounts - each written by a new 2012-13 Project Coach Fellow entering their year of service in youth development - reflect on the learning experiences gained during Project Coach's latest partnership program with BCNY, where our 'redshirts' had their first real taste of mentoring and coaching alongside dynamic teen coaches-in-training.

In this first account, Tricia Chase compares her expectations of the program alongside the reality of her experience:

When we arrived in New Jersey at Camp Cromwell on Saturday I had no idea what to expect. I had observed the Project Coach program earlier in the spring as a volunteer, but helping to run it as a red shirt was a completely different experience. I wondered what this group of teenagers would be like and how they would respond to the workshop we would be running with them over the next two days. What I
found was we did face some resistance as I had expected due to the fact that much of the workshop asked the teens to step out f their comfort zones and step up in front of their peers. On the other hand, I also found that these kids have enormous potential. The majority of the group improved vastly from the first day to the third when they were thrown in front of the kids for the first time on the first day of
camp. It goes to show that often when you give teenagers responsibility, after you have equipped them with the proper information and tools, they will most likely rise to the occasion, and can handle much more then they are typically given credit for by society.

For example the two coaches that I mentored during the whole weekend and on the first day of camp Monday were on the quieter side when we began on Saturday morning. If I went on first impressions I would’ve assumed that neither of the two could have handled having a group of kids looking to them for direction and attention. Instead of creating assumptions I observed my mentees in discussion,
activities, and in free time in between and promptly discovered that both were very smart and level headed, and really got the concepts and skills we were trying to convey to the group, despite the fact that they did not speak up as much as others. One of the coaches in particular would always mumble things under his breath that were exactly the point we wanted to rest of the group to understand or articulate,
but when I would encourage him to speak up with his thoughts or ideas he would say he’d rather not or say he forgot what he said when he began to speak. Slowly, but surely through a lot of encouragement and praise of his good ideas from another red shirt and myself this coach began to speak up a little more and more. When you got him in front of the kids he had clearly been listening to what we had talked
about the entire weekend, as he was very careful and determined to incorporate many of the lessons the workshop covered. 

This coach like many of the others seemed to be willing and confident to engage the most when the other red shirt and myself showed that we really respected their ideas and opinions and thought highly
of their capabilities. When treated like equals many of the teenagers rose above the likely expectations they would normally receive off first impressions. Overall the weekend was a great learning experience for not only the New York Boys Club teens, but also for ourselves as red shirts to be prepared to jump into the program with the Springfield kids come the fall.

Joe Martinez:

I met Juan on Saturday morning. He was one of approximately twenty Boys Club of New York members who would join us for the weekend in an intensive coaching clinic designed to turn them into positive coaches and role models for the younger members of BCNY. I was excited to meet him because he was a big soccer fan, and we spoke for a few minutes about our favorite players. We also spoke
about his soccer team, and what he liked and disliked about his coach. He said he wanted to be a coach who was always positive, because he knew that players responded well in that kind of environment. A few minutes later, even before Andy, Greg and Tom had started the first presentation of the day, Juan was asleep on our table.

My first thought was to write Juan off—if he didn’t want to be there or to participate that was his choice. I hoped he wouldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the three other boys at the table. But then Juan woke up and he became a bit of an enigma. At times he would offer thoughtful responses and seemed genuine in his interest in soccer, as well as coaching. The next minute he’d have his head buried in the crook of his arm. Throughout the first day he seemed to gain momentum. When our group would debrief after watching a video or running a drill, his responses added value to the discussion. Still, there were extended lapses when he lost focus, and I’d see him playing with his iPod in the middle of the workshop. I wondered how to keep him “on” at all times, because when he was “on” he brought a lot to the table.

The second day, Juan continued to progress. By the end of the day, I knew he’d be able to hold his own as a coach when the campers arrived the next day. He seemed confident in his ability to run drills, to input variations and to offer feedback and encouragement. Unfortunately, he would find out quickly that
controlling a group of seven year olds is far different in theory than in practice. When the kids arrived on Monday morning, Juan took the role of head coach. He had the five young players take a knee. He used good eye contact and his voice was clear and confident. He gave concise directions about the “name game” we’d be playing as an icebreaker. The group was two names into the game when Josiah, one of the young campers, spotted a cricket on the blacktop. He went scampering after it and was followed by two other curious young campers. The icebreaker broke down and Juan expressed his frustration by yelling at the three campers who were heading off in three different directions.

I took over running the drills for the morning session and Juan was an enthusiastic assistant coach. He showed boundaries for the games we set up, he made sure the campers were focusing, and he helped explain how to play dribble knockout and line basketball. At the end of the morning session he sought me out and talked about how he could’ve improved his explanations, how he’d spent a little too much time describing the icebreaker and that may have caused Josiah to lose concentration. I was so impressed that he took the initiative to bounce ideas off of me. It showed that he really wanted to be there. I asked him if he’d liked his first coaching experience and he didn’t hesitate to say that he liked it a lot.

I hope Juan will stick with coaching. He has a ton of potential that showed in the flashes of insight and enthusiasm over the three days that I got to know him. If he works hard and continues to think critically about the positives and negatives of his coaching sessions, he will be successful.

Kelly Coder:

The weekend was my first official experience with Project Coach. Going into the trip I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, it was the first time I would be meeting my co-workers for the year and interacting with them as co-coaches/mentors. Following a long road trip, we were introduced to the coaches from BCNY that we would be mentoring and overseeing for the next three days. We immediately jumped into ice breaker games to start building relationships and getting to know one another.
At first it was hard to break the tension, many of the coaches in training were reluctant to get involved with the activities right away. However, once we split off into smaller groups and began to develop a dynamic amongst the six of us, things started to flow. One of the keys that really brought the group out of its shell was brainstorming about the positives and negatives we see in coaches. It forced us to reflect on coaches we've had in the past, and identify the things we disliked or enjoyed about specific coaches in our lives. The kids began to express how certain actions affected them, and how a coach from their past either brought out the best in them or left them with a bad feeling in their stomach. When we were forced to find the “artist” in our group and draw pictures of what represented the ideal coach, the mentorees began to have fun and really get into the topic at hand.
The next two days were certainly a grueling process. We were challenged as teachers and mentors to keep our coaches in training focused and activated. It was hard to tell if they truly wanted to be there at times, and we questioned whether they would be ready for the campers come Monday morning. However, as the hours passed and Saturday morning turned to Sunday afternoon, many of the coaches showed progress, and demonstrated their desire to learn and be attentive. Many of the key points we tried to hammer home over the past twenty-four hours started to come to the surface during their lesson demonstrations and deliveries. We talked a lot about eye contact, “coaching voice,” enthusiasm, and attention to detail. Forcing our way through conversations involving coaching strategies, conflict situations, disturbances, and  times where words of encouragement must be used allowed us to develop our relationships and showed me that they were engaged and focused.
We had to fight through tiredness and lack of focus at times, but for the most part my instruction was met with eyes of eagerness and excitement. The kids seemed ready to take on the challenge of the week. By the end of the second day of training I was confident that the pairings we put together could take on the campers the following morning. E and B were the two I stuck with for the remainder of our time at Camp Cromwell.
 At first the two were reluctant to take initiative and assume their coaching role with confidence and assertiveness. However, after I provided a few keys and demonstrated the level of enthusiasm and command needed, the pair sprung into action and took the lead. E took the role of head coach for most of the day and B became a solid assistant. They used each other well when describing and demonstrating the upcoming game, and delivered commands with confidence. Focus was tough to hold on to as the day went along for both the coaches and the kids. More conflicts between the campers began to arise, and keeping their attention was much more difficult in the afternoon. The coaches fought back with enthusiasm and did their best to project their coaching voices.
Overall I am extremely glad I was able to join the Project Coach team for the weekend in New Jersey. I was able to get a taste for what the program in Springfield might be like throughout the year. My patience was tested each of the three days, but as a team we were able to come together, feed off of each other, and bounce back with enthusiasm and confidence in our voices. These are two of the most important things I will need to take with me heading into the school year. The coaches we mentored showed me that it is easy to lose control at times, but as long as you bounce back with enthusiasm, excitement, encouragement, and assertiveness, the results will be positive.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Project Coach returns to Camp Cromwell @ BCNY!

Although hard to believe that a year has passed since a fresh-faced cohort of graduate "redshirts" arrived on the beautiful 180-acre summer home of the Boy's Club of New York in July 2011, the latest additions to the Project Coach team set off early this past Saturday morning to work with another incredible group of young men from the three city clubhouses that form BCNY.

After shaking off the early-morning blues with a series of fast-paced icebreaker games and teambuilding activities, our redshirts got to work quickly on implementing an intensive 2-day "bootcamp" designed to get our new cohort of coaches up to speed with all the knowledge and techniques that they would need to be successful when bus-loads of eager campers arrived on campus on Monday morning.

With the support of the Physical Directors from the three clubhouses - Manny Maldonado, Norris Gordon, and Jaime Sanchez - who will oversee the implementation of Project Coach-style programming in their buildings during the course of the school year, our coaches-in-training quickly immersed themselves in the hands-on Project Coach curriculum, and before long were out on the courts and fields putting their new skills to the test as they adopted the role of coach for the first time, and led their peers through a series of "Games Based Approach" activities that they would later roll-out in their activity plans with the young campers.

In true Project Coach and BCNY fashion, our new cohort acquitted themselves admirably as they ran an action-packed basketball and soccer schedule for over 60 members of the Harriman Clubhouse on Monday, followed by equally fun-filled sessions for the Gerry and Abbe Clubhouses on the two subsequent days. Our coaches are now thrilled to be rounding out the week with a return visit from the Harriman boys, and can't wait to try out a whole new repertoire of games to keep their campers engaged and eager to keep perfecting their sports skills. Stay posted for more news of ongoing collaborations with PC and BCNY!

Friday, July 6, 2012

PC in a Global Context - an African Assessment

Editor's note: we are delighted to submit this "guest" blog post from Mopati Morake, a citizen of Botswana who recently graduated from Williams College, and who is currently teaching at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. Mopati wrote this compelling account of a recent visit to Senegal, in which he considers the great need for sports-based youth-development programs - such as Project Coach - in a developing continent.

Project Coach in Africa: 
Youth, Sport and Africa’s Development

By Mopati Morake (see the end of the blog for a more complete bio)

July 4, 2012

I have spent the last year thinking a lot about Africa’s future. I teach at African Leadership Academy in South Africa, an institution whose mission is to directly contribute to long lasting peace and prosperity in Africa by developing and connecting its future leaders to resources that harness their potential. In thinking about Africa’s development, two things come to mind. One is a statistic that never ceases to amaze me. It is the fact that approximately 70% of Africa is under the age of 30. Further, about one-fifth of Africans are between 15-24 years of age. This is staggering to me - basically everyone is young! Of course, the reasons for this population imbalance are manifold, but atop that list is the high birthrate. In Mali, the fertility rate is 6.3 children per woman. Given these facts, youth empowerment shouldn’t just be a political buzzword. It should be a real priority in the development agenda.

The second thing that I think of is how to create and develop educational institutions that really can cultivate all the talents that young people have to offer. We all have multiple intelligences, and different areas of skill. Yet, too often, our education system focuses on developing one set of skills in the classroom, and testing it by way of a massive, comprehensive final exam. But some talents just can’t be assessed in a two-and-a half hour exam paper. Some of our innate ability needs to be drawn out in other more creative and engaging ways.

This is where I see space for the Project Coach (PC) model on the continent. What excites me about PC is that it finds a way to combine what young Africans are particularly passionate about – sports – with the tools to empower, and transform them into effective leaders – something the continent desperately needs.

I am writing this from the small coastal village of Joal, in Senegal. Schools are on holiday, and as I sat in back of a taxi this evening, taking in the scenes just before sunset, I saw children playing soccer on virtually every corner. This is obviously because its fun, but one must also consider the fact that during school holidays, there are very few structured activities for students do participate in. There aren’t many summer camps. For close to three months, most Senegalese students simply don’t do much. In Botswana (where I come from), there is virtually nothing for students to do when school is out.

So why not transform the school holiday from a period of idleness into one of enriching, empowering, and fun programming? Why not build an educational institution, like Project Coach, that would give teenagers practice in leadership? Young people would move from being bored at home to adding value to their communities by running youth sports leagues. They would be given real responsibility. They would learn to lead teams, set goals, and communicate clearly. And they would serve as mentors to young children, and thus become community organizers at age 16.

What I particularly like about this idea is the cascading of leadership skills. By building Project Coach, we would engage a team of people, perhaps university students, to train and mentor teenagers. These teen coaches would then pass down good habits and lessons to their young players.

In a time when kids are otherwise just hanging around, Project Coach could help create an ecosystem of young leaders who take initiative and create opportunities for others in their communities. What Africa needs is proactive young people who take action and make positive changes in their communities, instead of simply waiting for the government to do all the work. Coming from a country where the unemployment rate exceeds 20%, this mentality is essential.

As Nigerian Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi recently said, “development really just means creating opportunities for people.” Through Project Coach, young people would actually be doing development work, and having fun along the way. 


Mopati hails from Botswana, but as child he lived in Sweden and the United States before moving to Hong Kong to study at Li Po Chun United World College.
He is a proud alumnus of Williams College, where he graduated with a BA in Political Science, concentrating in International Relations. While at Williams, Mopati was deeply involved in community building, and served as a Junior Advisor to mentor first year students. He was guided by the belief the relationships, conversations, and interactions one has with a diverse community provide a tremendous and invaluable opportunity for learning and growth.
He pursued his passion for equity in education with summer internships at the Maru-a-Pula School in Botswana and Ditshwanelo – the Botswana Center for Human Rights. In 2010, he was granted a travel and research fellowship to study education equity and the politics of school reform in France. He also played ultimate frisbee for Williams, and sang in the concert choir. At his graduation, Mopati was awarded the Francis Sessions Hutchins Class of 1900 Memorial Fellowship Prize, given to a senior who shows promise of becoming a “useful, worthy and loveable citizen.”
Mopati brings a passion for social change through education to ALA. He teaches English, is a member of the residential faculty team as hall master of one of the boys’ halls, lovingly nicknamed “The Office.” He also coaches basketball and supervises the Emthonjeni Community Service Project site.
Here's the link to African Leadership Academy -